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The whisper, p.18
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       The Whisper, p.18

           Emma Clayton
 
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  “OK,” Leo said at last. “I’ll call him again now.”

  The children gathered and watched.

  Raphael Mose sat at the desk in his study, staring at his companion.

  He’d had a horrible few minutes. He’d yelled at a maid who’d tried to come in, then sat there, frozen, struggling to absorb what had just happened. One minute he was eating porridge with Grace, the next he was talking to a thirteen-year-old boy who was standing on The Wall, trying to negotiate for freedom for billions of people. This meant all the Ghengis borgs were gone.

  How had they gotten rid of the Ghengis borgs?

  The thought that The Wall now stood unprotected made him feel sick, and he wished he hadn’t ended the call. He needed to know more. He needed to know what was happening in the North so he could decide what to do about it. They clearly had weapons powerful enough to take down the Ghengis borgs and he already knew that if he attacked first, he could start a war that would come back at him like a boomerang. That he might die, his wife might die, his beautiful half of Grace might die. And that his house would burn…. These were sobering thoughts with the sun shining through the window. But through his blood pumped the cold, hard human instinct to protect his territory and tribe. In his heart he felt murderous.

  Then Leo called again and Mose snatched up his companion to talk to him.

  “OK, I’m listening,” Mose said. “Explain to me who you are.”

  “I’m one of the firstborn children,” Leo said. “There are twenty-seven thousand of us, aged twelve and thirteen. We were trained by the Northern Government to fight a war against you, because they wanted to take your land. But we don’t want a war. We know what will happen if it starts, so we’ve taken control and deposed our government. We, the children, control the North now and we want to resolve this problem without fighting. We want a better life for our people and we don’t want to destroy the forests.”

  “Really?” Mose said. He couldn’t help being impressed by this statement. A bunch of children had deposed their government and taken over all the weapons. And they sounded sane. This boy Leo was talking sense, even if he didn’t want to hear it. Then something occurred to him. “Do your parents know what you’re doing?” he asked. “You’ve said you’ve deposed your government, but what do your parents think?”

  “They don’t know,” Leo said. “We haven’t told them yet.”

  “Ah,” Mose replied with a nasty smile. “I thought not. And I know why you haven’t told them, Leo. Because if you did, they’d go completely nuts. Do you think I’m crazy enough to negotiate with children whose parents don’t know what they’re doing?”

  “We can control them,” Leo said. “It was easy deposing the government. We took the Minister for Youth Development, Mal Gorman, as if he was a baby.”

  “Mal Gorman!” Mose repeated. “MAL GORMAN! Of course it was easy taking Mal Gorman. Do you know who Mal Gorman used to be?”

  “No,” Leo replied.

  “My security guard,” Mose sneered. “One day I came home and found him lying in my bed, eating a box of my wife’s chocolates. Mal Gorman is so stupid he dared to do that, and got caught! Your whole government is a bunch of bumbling idiots.”

  “We know,” Leo said. “But we can control our parents.”

  “How?” Mose mocked. “There’s a flaw in your plan, isn’t there? How are you going to stop your parents coming over here in a mad scrum to fight for the land they’ve lost?” He stood up and walked around his desk. “Your parents are a bunch of knuckle draggers, Leo! We built The Wall because there wouldn’t be a tree left on the planet if they were left to carry on.”

  “We’re different from them,” Leo said. “We’re going to fix them. We know how.”

  “Really?” Mose sneered. “You’re just as crazy as they are if you believe that. I’ve had enough of this conversation now. You don’t know what you’re doing. Go away, little boy. Go home and play some safer games. And I will say again, that if your people take one step beyond The Wall, we’ll kill every one of you. You’ll either be eaten by wolves, crushed by berserker borgs, or poisoned like rats.”

  He slammed down his companion once more. Then he grasped one corner of the horse painting over the mantel and swung it out on a hinge. Behind this was the control panel Mika and Ellie had seen while they were searching for Everlife-9.

  For a moment he looked at the three red buttons, then he pressed the first.

  “Mal Gorman indeed,” he snarled. “Those children are crazy if they think we’re going to let people like that back over here.”

  “That didn’t go well,” Leo said. “Mose doesn’t think much of Mal Gorman. He used to work as his security guard. He caught him eating his wife’s chocolates in his bed. And he doesn’t believe we can control our parents.”

  “What do we do now?” Audrey said. She was beginning to feel cold. It was still raining and they were soaked to the skin.

  “Wait again,” Leo said. “Next time I speak to him, I’ll explain about the light and that we can help our parents see it.”

  “Yes, do that,” Audrey said, brightening. “He doesn’t know about that yet.”

  “We can do this,” Leo said. “It’s not going to be easy, but we can do it. He did listen to me for a minute.”

  They heard a noise; a faint rumble on the south side of The Wall. Startled, they walked across and looked down through the darkness at the strip of no-man’s-land. On the south side, it was covered in dead leaves and the lights of small animals and insects. The rumbling noise was coming from beneath it.

  “What is it?” Mika said.

  They began to see movement.

  Leaves slid, insects scattered, and a line of giant square holes opened up in the ground, all along The Wall. They listened to the rumbling noise for a few moments more, then saw the tops of giant silver cubes rising up from the darkness.

  “They must be some kind of weapon,” Ellie said.

  “Berserker borgs,” Leo replied. “Mose said that if our people take one step beyond The Wall, they’d be eaten by wolves, crushed by berserker borgs, or poisoned like rats.”

  When the cubes had risen to their full height, they looked strange against their dark forest background. Their silver surfaces were ghostly pale, their edges hard and sharp, like a warning from the future to the victims of the past. They were immense, their bases as big as a tower and half the height of The Wall.

  Suddenly they shifted, with one quick, synchronized movement, expanding and splitting into many more, smaller cubes that shuffled in the air and settled again, as if giving the children a demonstration.

  “Oh, frag,” Mika said. “I don’t like the look of those. Santos, you’ve got the best head for engineering: Look into them and try to figure out what they do.”

  “OK,” Santos said.

  They left the Hawk Boy staring at the cubes and walked to the other side of The Wall. The people of Mainz had now ventured halfway across no-man’s-land. It wouldn’t be long before they covered it.

  “It’s OK,” Mika said. “We just have to stay calm and wait until we can talk to Mose again.”

  “Yes,” Audrey said. “We just have to stay calm and everything will be fine.”

  25 Shut Up and Do What You’re Told

  Kobi sat on his bed, waiting for Mika to call him back. He couldn’t believe he was still waiting. He’d called his best friend, begging to talk to him, and had been told Mika was too busy. And because he was riddled with panic and crazy with impatience, he couldn’t stay quiet enough to hear The Whisper, so he was cast out, with something terrible happening downstairs.

  “Call me,” he said, glaring through his hair at his companion. “Come on, Mika, call me back, you perp!”

  Eventually, he couldn’t sit still and ran down the stairs to the meeting room. There was a gathering of children outside the door, wondering what had happened to their parents. Some clutched badly made sandwiches. Others looked tired and confused. Oliver was holding a baby
that was screaming its head off.

  Kobi tried the door. It was still locked. He pressed his ear against it but because the baby was screaming, he couldn’t hear anything.

  “Oliver,” he said. “Whose baby is that?”

  “My baby,” Oliver replied desperately. “It’s my baby sister. My parents told me to look after her, then they went into the meeting room and haven’t come out. I don’t know what to do with her.”

  He was holding the baby under her arms, so she was almost dropping to the floor. Her diaper was sodden and hung between her legs as if it had a bucket of pee in it.

  “Give her to me,” Kobi said. “And go and find her a diaper.”

  Oliver ran off and returned a minute later, then Kobi laid the screaming baby on the floor and Oliver gave him the diaper. But when Kobi unfolded it, he had no idea how to put it on. He turned it over in his hands, mystified.

  “If I can make kittens out of vacuumbot,” he muttered. “I’m sure I can do this.”

  After several minutes of failed attempts and help from all the children, the diaper was on and the baby had stopped crying.

  “Thank odd for that,” Kobi said, handing her back to Oliver. “She screams louder than a Plague siren.”

  He stood up and pressed his ear against the door. Now he could hear what was happening.

  “What are they saying?” Oliver whispered.

  “Shhh,” Kobi replied.

  He could hear the boy muttering deliriously, unaware what was coming out of his mouth. Everyone else was listening. Occasionally an adult would ask a quiet question, then there would be a rush of incredulous whispers, then more muttering from the boy. A dreamlike jumble was pouring out of his head, but the adults were beginning to make sense of it.

  Kobi realized that if he didn’t stop it now, it would be too late.

  “Stand back,” he said to the children. They shuffled back with wide eyes. Then he began to kick the door, making them jump with fright.

  But he was too late.

  The voices grew louder on the other side of the door. Shouting began, then yelling. Kobi stood back and listened, wondering if they were yelling at him, then he realized they hadn’t even heard him kick the door. They were so full of rage, they couldn’t hear anything else.

  He heard chairs clatter as they rose. Then the door burst open and they poured out like a pen of baited bulls. The younger children shrank back, but Kobi lurched forward and tried to grab his father’s arm. Abe shook him off as if he didn’t recognize him.

  “Dad,” Kobi cried. “Stop!”

  “No!” Abe yelled, his face contorted by rage. “Get out of my way.”

  He shoved Kobi aside and began to follow the others.

  Kobi ran after him.

  “Where are you going?” he said.

  His father turned on him. “To find the parts to build a bomb!” he yelled. “So we can blow a hole through The Wall!”

  “Dad, no!” Kobi pleaded. He tried to grab his father’s arm again. “Please don’t build a bomb! You’ll start a war! You’ll start a terrible war!”

  His father shook him off again. “Good!” he yelled. “There are forests on the other side of The Wall! Beautiful forests, Kobi! And a few thousand rich people living in mansions! They stole our land and left us to rot! They murdered your mother! They killed her with greed and lies! What do you think of that, Kobi?”

  Kobi looked away.

  “Do you know?” his father roared. “You don’t look very surprised.”

  Kobi didn’t reply.

  “You do, don’t you? You’re doing that thing when you hide in your hair. Tell me, Kobi! Did the boy tell you?”

  “Sort of,” Kobi said.

  “How long have you known?”

  “Not long,” Kobi replied. “A day maybe.”

  “You knew? YOU KNEW! AND YOU DIDN’T TELL US? HOW DARE YOU?”

  “Because look at you!” Kobi yelled. “Look at the state of you! You’re going to kill people now! That’s why I didn’t tell you! The army of children are out there, trying to solve this without fighting a war, and now you’re going to ruin it all. You’re going to start a war and make it ten times worse! Everyone will die! And those forests on the other side of The Wall will burn!”

  “I am so ashamed of you!” his father yelled. “You stupid child! Now go and pack our bags! You’re coming with me to The Wall!”

  “Please, Dad, no! Calm down and think about what you’re doing! I know Mum died, but killing loads of other people because of her doesn’t make sense!”

  “Shut up, Kobi! You’re twelve years old. Just shut up and do what you’re told! I’m building a bomb to blow a hole through The Wall and you’re going to help me! That’s our land on the other side of The Wall! OUR LAND THEY STOLE!”

  Kobi watched his father rush off, then turned to find Oliver trembling behind him, with his baby sister crying in his arms.

  He crouched down. “Listen to me,” he said. “Don’t be scared. Somewhere out there is an army of children. All those children who used to play Pod Fighter are trying to stop this war. We’ll tell them what’s happened and they’ll help us.”

  “Do it quickly,” Oliver cried. “I’m scared. I don’t want to be in a war! I don’t want everyone to die!”

  “OK,” Kobi said. Then he removed his companion from his pocket and tried to call Mika again.

  Once The Secret was out, it spread like a fire in a hay barn in the middle of a hot summer drought. It began in the meeting room in the Future Communication Building, then the heat threw it up into the air to fall all over the North and start many more fires. It wouldn’t be long before the whole northern hemisphere was burning.

  On The Wall, Santos and Colette observed the giant cubes, while Mika, Ellie, Audrey, Leo, and Iman watched the crowd on the other side. Suddenly, they saw heat spots appear in the light.

  “What’s going on?” Mika said.

  They watched for another minute as the red patches spread and began to join up. Each time they blinked, there were hundreds more. Soon it looked as if molten lava was pouring through the streets between the towers. The children looked at each other. They knew there was only one reason why so many people would behave this way.

  “Do you think they know?” Audrey asked tentatively.

  “Surely not,” Mika replied. “It would be the worst possible thing that could happen. Our luck can’t possibly be that bad.”

  They didn’t want to believe it. They continued to watch for a while longer, trying to stay calm and hoping this was happening for another reason. But when the crowd reached The Wall, it attacked it in a frenzy of fists, roaring, raging, hands bleeding, feet kicking.

  “Oh frag,” Mika said.

  They turned away and began to pace, breathing hard. All the other children were panicking around them and this was spreading through The Whisper, dousing it dead.

  “We have to stay calm,” Leo said. “All of us. If The Secret’s out, we have no choice but to deal with it. This can’t be stopped now. Everyone, try to calm down so we can hear each other and work out what to do.”

  They fought hard for quiet. The crowd was roaring below them and they could feel vibrations through The Wall as all the people pounded against it. They knew what this meant. These people would never listen to them while they felt this angry. The war was starting and Raphael Mose had been right. They couldn’t control their parents. It was all going wrong.

  This thought was too much. They started to break apart.

  Audrey put her hands over her face. Awen shivered with his tail between his legs. Mika watched Ellie blink; she was doing that bad blinking thing again. Then her face darkened and she took a step away from him. Immediately, he realized what she was thinking. Their parents would be part of that raging mob.

  “Ellie, no,” he said.

  She took another step back, as if to stop him from touching her.

  “No, Ellie!”

  “But they’ll come here!” she cried. “Ev
eryone will come here and so will Mum and Dad and they might get killed and I’ll never see them again! I have to stop them!”

  She turned and began to run toward her Pod Fighter.

  “No!” Mika yelled, sprinting after her.

  She reached it and leaped onto the wing, and Mika found himself fighting with her, grabbing at her legs, trying to stop her from getting in. He pulled her down and they slipped over the wet, black wing, with Puck perched on the windshield, screeching at them. In a mad frenzy, they both fell down and landed on The Wall. Then they were wrestling in the puddles as they’d done when they were toddlers.

  “You can’t do anything!” Mika yelled, trying to pin her down. “If Mum and Dad know The Secret, they’ll be just as angry as the rest! You don’t want to see them like that, Ellie. Stop it!”

  “Get off me!” she screamed. “I have to find them!” She struggled against him, furiously, her wet hair plastered to her cheeks, but he would not let her go. He’d felt her break as she ran toward the Pod Fighter. In this state of mind, she’d kill herself. But then the fight got nasty. He felt a sharp pain in his eyes as hers locked on his, then he was gone for a moment, in agony, rolling over on the wet wall with his hands over his face. Then he saw flashes of white all around him. He opened his eyes to see Audrey, Leo, Iman, Santos, and Colette running in to help. But Ellie was now curled up in the puddles, weeping, with her hands over her eyes. She’d shocked herself back to sanity.

  Mika stood up and pulled her to her feet. They were both sodden and filthy.

  “I’m sorry,” she wept.

  “So you’re not going to fly off like a perp on some kamikaze mission?”

  “No,” she replied.

  He put his arms around her. “OK,” he said. “But you can’t do things like that, Ellie. The best way to help Mum and Dad is to control yourself. Don’t ever hurt me like that again. You’re fragging dangerous.”

  “I know, I’m sorry. It happened before I could stop it.”

  The crowd was still roaring and battering The Wall. The sky to the north was full of pods. A mass exodus had begun. But somehow, in that moment, they did feel calmer. Ellie had freaked out on behalf of them all, and they were better for it. Soon all their parents would be part of that mob and they had no choice but to deal with it.

 
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